The Jewish Report Editorial

Saluting the brave youth of ‘76

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It was 41 years ago that South African schoolchildren stood up against the apartheid government and said “no” to being forced to learn in a language of their oppressor, a language they felt was alien to them. Their protest was a loud, clear and unequivocal “no” to an inferior “Bantu” education.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Jun 15, 2017

Teenagers put their lives where their mouths are and in their droves took to the streets, first in Soweto and then in townships all around the country. They were brave. They were determined. They were angry. They were just children.

Police and soldiers fought stones with live ammunition. Some of those soldiers were young Jewish conscripts who didn’t want to be there, but they too had no choice. Such was the times we were living in…

Our parents were afraid. Was this the uprising they had feared might happen because of the so-called “swart gevaar” (black danger)? Parents at Jewish schools wondered, discussed and debated in hushed tones whether it was time to buy that one-way ticket to Israel, England, Australia, the United States or Canada.

Many did emigrate. Most Jewish people weathered the storm and were - dare I say - hardly affected by this rebellion. However, the government gave an official number of 176 people who had been killed, but the real figure was closer to 700, mostly children who died during the June 16 Uprising.

My dominant memory of that time - I was in the equivalent of grade 5 - was being in class with Shana Edelstein when she was called out and told that her father, Dr Melville Edelstein, had been killed in Soweto.

It was horrible! He had gone to work in Soweto that day, as he did for 18 years, and he was mistakenly beaten to death by an angry mob. Seeing Shana’s anguish really brought home to us at King David Linksfield the reality of the violence that was taking place in the townships.

One of our own tribe was lost and Dr Edelstein will forever be the Jewish link to the June 16 Uprising. (See the story on the Edelstein family on page 8.)

But that day represented so much to us - it was a day that children stood up for what was right. It was a day that saw the beginning of change in this country. It was a day where the brutality of the apartheid government stood out for the world to see.

This momentous day will never be forgotten by those of us who were around at the time, both black, white, Jewish and others. But, for those of us who were not yet born at the time, June 16 is little more than a public holiday.

We, at the SA Jewish Report, did the exercise of asking Jewish high schools to ask pupils what this day means to them. Those who responded had interesting insights. (See page 13.)

While some were very well aware of the importance of the day, there are so many youngsters for whom this is just another holiday. This concerns me because this day is so integral to our history as South Africans. In the same way as we say “lest we forget” about the Holocaust, we need to make sure our children know what happened in this country so we can ensure atrocities like June 16 never happen again.

In working on this edition with a focus on youth, I realise how much the youth is aware of their own voice and how we - as adults - need to listen to them. We need to understand what is important to them and give them a platform.

We did this for the leaders of the Jewish youth movements this week (page 10-11). This brought home to me how much we can learn from the youth. They are unfettered, unscathed and very, very smart and they see things clearly. Let’s give power to their voices!

Happy Youth Day and Shabbat Shalom.




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